March 29, 1999 -- Newsletter #21

By Joe Burns

March 29, 1999 -- Newsletter #21
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors...

This is Newsletter 21. We're legal.

With all this talk about Y2K, we hardly had time to be worried about DJ10K, the Dow Jones 10,000 (that's the level the stock market tries to hit). Fortunately, all is well. The Dow bumped up to just over 10K and none of the computers crashed. Now, should we be concerned about P1K? That's the concern that the Pentium chips will go over 1000 MHz and not be able to handle the four-digit number. ;->

Now onto the topic of this week's newsletter....

I make a good bit of my living by writing and posting pages to the World Wide Web. I'm assuming all of you have been to my HTML Goodies Web site: There you'll find literally thousands of pages devoted to teaching you the languages of HTML, DHTML, JavaScript, and a little XML, too.

And better yet, it's free. I have never asked for a dime for any of this information! But, as you may have noticed, I do have banner ads on my site. Each page has a banner ad, in fact.

So the other day I was watching TV and on came a story about a young man who has invented a piece of software that blocks all these ads out. He talked to the reporter in an overt tone proclaiming he was striking a blow for the little guy.

What little guy? The little guy who's so oppressed he never has to pay a dime to get into a site? The little guy who can see sports scores and stats less than 10 minutes after the game is over for free? The little guy who can read newspapers from all around the world, shop on-line, download entire text- books, and basically find a wealth of information never before realized in the history of civilization? That little guy?

Wow -- I almost got into a Dennis Miller rant.

This is actually not the first time I've run into this argument. Back before my relationship with EarthWeb began, I literally did run HTML Goodies for free. I wanted to keep it that way, but couldn't. I was cutting a check for over $500 each month just to keep the site up and running. I simply couldn't put out that kind of money and keep the site free.

Soon after I posted my first banner advertisements (AOL was the first banner ad on HTML Goodies, by the way), I ran into an academic colleague at a conference. We talked for a while and then he really told me off, saying that I was doing something horrible by putting up the banner ads. His thought was that information is free and should remain that way. But, I said, it is free. I am not asking for any money from users. That didn't matter. By putting up the banner ad, I had done something sacrilegious in his eyes. We actually haven't spoken since the conversation (it's silly, I know).

So the dilemma started: Either keep posting banner ads and keep the site running or crash the entire site. To my wife and me this was a no-brainer: Keep the banner ads and keep the site.

But still people would get upset. I received my share of flaming e-mail, telling me that I had somehow "sold out" by putting up banner ads. I attempted to calmly explain that without the ads the site would die. That didn't matter. Some people even told me that the site should die in order for me to keep my dignity.


I don't know how many of you run your own businesses, but I would bet that those of you who do were darn surprised at the actual amount of profit you make. Am I right? When you went into business, you expected to make a ton of moolah, right? I did.

What a shock. Until you have run a business and have had to file quarterly, you'll never believe how much gets eaten up in business costs and taxes. So much is taken up that you simply can't roll in profits. In fact, HTML Goodies ran for a good year before it turned a profit (my wife gave me dirty looks every month that I cut a check for more than was coming in).

I always thought to myself that the people who proclaimed I was doing something horribly wrong must have been thinking that I was setting myself up as a king somewhere, rolling in banner ad dough. Sorry. It ain't so. I'm still a full-time university professor. If I had been given a license to print money through banner ads, do you think I would be working two jobs (Goodies and teaching)?

Read the financial section of the papers. Major sites like Yahoo! and Excite have yet to turn a profit. Why? Because this stuff is expensive, that's why.

Geocities doesn't post all those little banners because they're mean or they want money to burn. They do it because all of this Internet stuff costs money, a lot of money. I don't put banner ads on HTML Goodies because I want to vacation in the Bahamas every winter, I do it because I am on a phenomenal series of servers that can handle 4 million hits a month. Plus there is a full staff of people whose primary job is to keep the site up and running. Then there are the costs of phone lines, dedicated T3s, building rent, the security for the building, and a bunch of other costs.

I get letters all the time from people who tell me that I could get the domain on a server for free. No, I can't. No server is going to take that amount of traffic and give it to me for free. I actually had to take my site off of one server because I was taking three out of every four cycles of the CPU and was darn close to shutting it down.

I'm not telling you all of this to impress you. I'm telling you because soon you will be sent a spam e-mail, or get word from a friend that you can get this new software that will block all those banner ads. Before you run to the download site, stop and think.

If you, and a great majority of other people, block the banners, how will sites like Goodies continue to provide services for free?

They won't.

If the banner ads are blocked, it's my opinion that one of two things will happen: Either the site will ask you to pay a fee to get in, or it will crumble and shut down. The Web will be a series of reference pages, personal sites, and sites that are dedicated to selling you something. A Web site like HTML Goodies, that offers everything for free through the use of banner ads, will not exist.

If these ad blockers become big downloads and people put them on their machines in order to "teach those big sites a lesson," the big sites will either go away or you'll be asked to pay for the use of their service and information.

So, the next time you go surfing, make a point of looking at the banner ads. No one said you have to click on any! It would be nice if you did, but you don't have to. Are they really that much of an annoyance? Isn't a 465 by 60 pixel space on your browser window giving you free access to so much information worth it?

I guess it's all in how one phrases the argument. You can either claim to be making a stand against big corporate something or other and block out the banner ads, or you could see them as a necessity that allows you the ability to grab lots of good stuff for free.

I like "free."


And that's the end of number 21. Thanks for reading. I really do appreciate it!

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: The six flags that fly over the Six Flags amusement parks represent France, Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy, and the USA, the six different flags that have flown over Texas at one point or another. Texas is where the Six Flags amusement park started and the other parks have just kept the same flags.

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